Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-m8s7h Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-18T20:48:42.089Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

2 - The symbolism of Çatalhöyük in its regional context

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Ian Hodder
Stanford University, California
Get access



The aim of this chapter is to situate the symbolism and ritual at Çatalhöyük in the wider context of eastern Turkey and the Middle East. The rich symbolism at the site has already incited a wide range of interpretations of the site and its earlier and contemporary parallels to the east (Mellaart 1967; Clark 1977; Gimbutas 1989; Cauvin 2000; Özdoğan 2002; Lewis-Williams 2004; Mithen 2004). There are a number of contemporary and earlier sites with comparable art and symbolism (e.g., Jericho, Jerf el Ahmar, Nevalı Çori and Djade al-Mughara), and new discoveries are being made all the time. In particular, the site of Göbekli, excavated by Klaus Schmidt since 1994, has an equally or more remarkable concentration of symbolism, ritual and art starting in Pre-Pottery Neolithic A/B, the 9th millennium BC.

Çatalhöyük and Göbekli are very different in time and in place. They are 450 kilometers apart and in different regional traditions, in central and southeastern Turkey, respectively (Gérard & Thissen 2002). There are major differences in their economy and architecture. While the inhabitants of Çatalhöyük depended on domesticated cereals and pulses, as well as domestic sheep and goat, but on wild cattle, boar, deer and equid, at Göbekli all the plant and animal food resources were wild species. The architecture at Çatalhöyük is agglomerated individual houses of mud brick, whereas at Göbekli the buildings are of stone, sometimes of monumental proportions. There are also major differences in the setting of ritual and symbolism at the two sites: at Çatalhöyük the art and symbolism occur in domestic houses, whereas at the earlier site of Göbekli the symbolism is focused in separate ‘temples’. And yet in comparing Göbekli and other Neolithic sites in Turkey such as Nevalı Çori and Çatalhöyük, we have been struck by various similarities and contrasts that we would like to explore in this chapter (see also Hodder & Meskell, in press).

Religion in the Emergence of Civilization
Çatalhöyük as a Case Study
, pp. 32 - 72
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Arensburg, B.Bar-Yosef, O. 1973 Human remains from Ein Gev 1, Jordan Valley, IsraelPaléorient 1 201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe 2007 Die ältesten Monumente der MenschheitKarlsruheBadisches LandesmuseumGoogle Scholar
Bailey, D. W. 2005 Prehistoric Figurines: Representation and Corporeality in the NeolithicLondonRoutledgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baird, D. 2007 Pınarbaşı: From Epipalaeolithic camp site to sedentarising village in central AnatoliaThe Neolithic in Turkey: New Excavations and New DiscoveriesÖzdoğan, M.Başgelen, N.IstanbulArkeoloji ve Snatat Yayinlari285Google Scholar
Balter, M. 2005 The Goddess and the BullNew YorkSimon and SchusterGoogle Scholar
Bar-Yosef, O. 1981 The “Pre-Pottery Neolithic” period in the southern LevantPréhistoire du LevantCauvin, J.Sanlaville, P.ParisCNRS551Google Scholar
Bar-Yosef, O. 2002 Early Egypt and the agricultural dispersalsMagic Practices and Ritual in the Near Eastern NeolithicGebel, H.-G. K.Hermansen, B. D.Jensen, C. HoffmannBerlinEx Oriente49Google Scholar
Bataille, G. 1986 Eroticism, Death and SexualitySan FranciscoCity Lights BooksGoogle Scholar
Bloch, M. 1992 Prey into Hunter: The Politics of Religious ExperienceCambridgeCambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
Bonogofsky, M. 2005 A bioarchaeological study of plastered skulls from Anatolia: New discoveries and interpretationsInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology 15 124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boyd, B. 1995 Houses and hearths, pits and burials: Natufian mortuary practices at Mallaha (Eynan), Upper Jordan ValleyThe Archaeology of Death in the Ancient Near EastCampbell, S.Green, A.OxfordOxbow Monograph 51 17Google Scholar
Carter, T.Conolly, J.Spasojević, A. 2005 The chipped stoneChanging Materialities at Çatalhöyük: Reports from the 1995–1999 SeasonsHodder, I.CambridgeMcDonald Institute for Archaeological Research221Google Scholar
Cauvin, J. 2000 The Birth of the Gods and the Origins of AgricultureCambridgeCambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
Çelik, B. 2000 An early Neolithic settlement: Karahan TepeNeo-Lithics2Google Scholar
Cessford, C.Newton, M. W.Kuniholm, P. I.Manning, S. W.Özbakan, M.Özer, A. M.Akoğlu, K. G.Higham, T.Blumbach, P. 2006 Absolute dating at ÇatalhöyükChanging Materialities at Çatalhöyük: Reports from the SeasonsHodder, I.CambridgeMcDonald Institute for Archaeological Research65Google Scholar
Chapman, J. 2000 Fragmentation in Archaeology: People, Places, and Broken Objects in the Prehistory of South-Eastern EuropeLondonRoutledgeGoogle Scholar
Clark, G. 1977 World PrehistoryCambridgeCambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
Daems, A.Croucher, K. 2007 Artificial cranial modification in prehistoric Iran: Evidence from crania and figurinesIranica Antiqua 42 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fletcher, A.Pearson, J.Ambers, J. 2008 The manipulation of social and physical identity in the Pre-Pottery NeolithicCambridge Archaeological Journal 18 309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fowler, C. S.Turner, N. J. 1999 Ecological/cosmological knowledge and land management among hunter-gatherersThe Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and GatherersLee, R. B.Daly, R.CambridgeCambridge University Press419Google Scholar
Garrod, D. E. 1957 The Natufian culture: The life and economy of a Mesolithic people in the Near EastProceedings of the British Academy 43 211Google Scholar
Gérard, F.Thissen, L. 2002 The Neolithic of Central Anatolia: Internal Developments and External Relations during the 9th–6th Millennia cal BC – Proceedings of the International CANeW Round Table, Istanbul, November 23–24, 2001IstanbulEge Yayınları181Google Scholar
Gimbutas, M. 1989 The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing Hidden Symbols of Western CivilisationLondonThames and HudsonGoogle Scholar
Girard, R. 1977 Violence and the SacredBaltimoreJohns Hopkins University PressGoogle Scholar
Gopher, A. 1994 Arrowheads of the Neolithic LevantWinona Lake, Ind.EisenbraunsGoogle Scholar
Goring-Morris, N.Ashkenazi, H.Barzilai, M.Birkenfeld, O. M.Eshed, V.Goren, Y.Horwitz, L. K.Oron, M.Williams, J. 2008 The 2007–8 excavation seasons at Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Kfar HaHoresh, IsraelAntiquity 82Google Scholar
Goring-Morris, N.Belfer-Cohen, A. 2001 The symbolic realms of utilitarian material culture: The role of lithicsBeyond ToolsCaneva, I.Lemorini, C.Ampetti, D.Biagi, P.BerlinEx Oriente257Google Scholar
Goring-Morris, N.Belfer-Cohen, A. 2002 Symbolic behaviour from the Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic of the Near East: Preliminary observations on continuity and changeMagic Practices and Ritual in the Near Eastern NeolithicGebel, H.-G. K.Hermansen, B. D.Hoffmann Jensen, C.BerlinEx Oriente67Google Scholar
Goring-Morris, N.Horwitz, L. K. 2007 Funerals and feasts during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B of the Near EastAntiquity 81 902CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grosman, L.Munro, N. D.Belfer-Cohen, A. 2008 A 12,000-year-old Shaman burial from the southern Levant (IsraelProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 17665CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Guenther, M. 1999 From totemism to shamanism: Hunter-gatherer contributions to world mythology and spiritualityThe Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and GatherersLee, R. B.Daly, R.CambridgeCambridge University Press426Google Scholar
Hamilton, N. 1996 Figurines, clay balls, small finds and burialsOn the Surface: Çatalhöyük, 1993–1995Hodder, I.CambridgeMcDonald Institute for Archaeological Research215Google Scholar
Hansen, S. 2007 Bilder vom Menschen der SteinzeitMainzVerlag Philipp von ZabernGoogle Scholar
Hauptmann, H. 2007 Nevali ÇoriDie ältesten Monumente der Menschheit-KarlsruheKarlsruheBadisches Landesmuseum86Google Scholar
Hauptmann, H.Schmidt, K. 2007 Anatolien vor 12 000 Jahren: Die Skulpturen des FrühneolithikumsDie ältesten Monumente der MenschheitKarlsruheBadisches Landesmuseum67Google Scholar
Henry, D. 1989 From Foraging to Agriculture: The Levant at the End of the IceagePhiladelphiaUniversity of Pennsylvania PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodder, I. 1990 The Domestication of EuropeOxfordBlackwellGoogle Scholar
Hodder, I. 2006 The Leopard's Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of ÇatalhöyükLondonThames and HudsonGoogle Scholar
Hodder, I. 2007 Çatalhöyük in the context of the Middle East NeolithicAnnual Review of Anthropology 36 105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodder, I.Meskell, L. M.
Hutton, R. 1997 The Neolithic Great Goddess: A study in modern traditionAntiquity 71 91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ingold, T. 1999 On the social relations of the hunter-gatherer bandThe Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and GatherersLee, R. B.Daly, R.CambridgeCambridge Univerity Press399Google Scholar
Kemp, B. J. 2000 The colossi from the early shrine at Coptos in EgyptCambridge Archaeological Journal 20 211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kenyon, K. M. 1981 Excavations at Jericho. Vol. 3: The Architecture and Stratigraphy of the TellLondonBritish School of Archaeology JerusalemGoogle Scholar
Kozlowski, S. K. 1992 Nemrik 9: PrePottery Neolithic Site in Iraq 2WarsawUniversity of Warsaw Institute of Archaeology.Google Scholar
Kozlowski, S. K. 2002 Nemrik 9: An Aceramic Village in Northern IraqWarsawUniversity of Warsaw Institute of ArchaeologyGoogle Scholar
Kuijt, I. 2008 The regeneration of life: Neolithic structures of symbolic remembering and forgettingCurrent Anthropology 49 171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kuijt, I.Chesson, M. 2005 Lumps of clay, pieces of stone: Ambiguity, bodies and identity as portrayed in Neolithic figurinesArchaeologies of the Middle East: Critical PerspectivesPollock, S.Bernbeck, R.OxfordBlackwells152Google Scholar
Levi-Strauss, C. 1963 Structural AnthropologyNew YorkBasic BooksGoogle Scholar
Lewis-Williams, D. 2004 Constructing a cosmos: Architecture, power and domestication at CatalhoyukJournal of Social Archaeology 4 28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mellaart, J. 1967 Çatal Hüyük: A Neolithic Town in AnatoliaLondonThames and HudsonGoogle Scholar
Meskell, L. M. 1995 Goddesses, Gimbutas and New Age archaeologyAntiquity 69 74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meskell, L. M. 2007 Refiguring the corpus at ÇatalhöyükMaterial Beginnings: A Global Prehistory of Figurative RepresentationRenfrew, A. C.Morley, I.CambridgeMcDonald Institute Monographs137Google Scholar
Meskell, L. M. 2008 The nature of the beast: Curating animals and ancestors at ÇatalhöyükWorld Archaeology 40 373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meskell, L. M.Nakamura, C. 2005
Meskell, L. M.Nakamura, C.King, R.Farid, S. 2008 Figured lifeworlds and depositional practices at ÇatalhöyükCambridge Archaeological Journal 18 139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mithen, S. 2004 After the IceCambridge, Mass.Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
Mithen, S.Finlayson, B.Shaffrey, R. 2005 Sexual symbolism in the Early Neolithic of the Southern Levant: Pestles and mortars from WF16Documenta Praehistorica 32 103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Molleson, TAndrews, P.Boz, B. 2005 Reconstruction of the Neolithic people of ÇatalhöyükInhabiting Çatalhöyük: Reports from the 1995–1999 SeasonsHodder, I.CambridgeMcDonald Institute for Archaeological Research279Google Scholar
Morsch, M. G. F. 2002 Magic figurines? Some remarks about the clay objects of Nevali ÇoriMagic Practices and Ritual in the Near Eastern NeolithicGebel, H.-G. K.Hermansen, B. D.Jensen, C. HoffmannBerlinEx Oriente145Google Scholar
Nadel, D. 1990 Ohalo II: A preliminary reportMitekufat Haeven 23 48Google Scholar
Nadel, D. 2006 Residence ownership and continuity: From the early Epipalaeolithic unto the NeolithicDomesticating SpaceBanning, E. B.Chazan, M.BerlinEx Oriente25Google Scholar
Nakamura, C.Meskell, L. M. 2006
Nanoglou, S. 2006 Regional perspectives on the Neolithic anthropomorphic imagery of Northern GreeceJournal of Mediterranean Archaeology 19 155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nanoglou, S. 2008 Building biographies and households: Aspects of community life in Neolithic northern GreeceJournal of Social Archaeology 8 139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nergis, S. 2008 Yakin Dogu Neolitikinde Phallus Sembolü SorunuIstanbulPrehistory Section, Faculty of Letters, Istanbul UniversityGoogle Scholar
Noy, T. 1991 Art and decoration of the Natufian at Nahal OrenThe Natufian Culture in the LevantBar-Yosef, O.Valla, F. R.Ann Arbor, MichInternational Monographs in Prehistory557Google Scholar
Özdoğan, M. 2001 The Neolithic deity: Male or femaleLux Orientis, Festschrift für Harald HauptmannBoehmer, R. M.Rahden, J. MaranRahdenVerlag Marie Leidorf313Google Scholar
Özdoğan, M. 2002 Defining the Neolithic of Central AnatoliaThe Neolithic of Central Anatolia: Internal Developments and External Relations during the 9th–6th Millennia cal BC – Proceedings of the International CANeW Round Table, Istanbul, November 23–24, 2001Gérard, F.Istanbul, L. ThissenIstanbulEge Yayınları253Google Scholar
Özdoğan, M. 2003 A group of Neolithic stone figurines from Mezraa-TeleilatFrom Village to Cities: Early Villages in the Near EastÖzdogan, M.Hauptmann, H.Basgelen, N.IstanbulArkeoloji ve Sanat Yayinlari511Google Scholar
Özdoğan, M.Başgelen, N. 1999 Neolithic in Turkey: The Cradle of Civilization, New DiscoveriesIstanbulArkeoloji ve Sanat YayınlarıGoogle Scholar
Peters, J.Helmer, D.Saña Segui, M.Von Den Driesch, A. 1999 Early animal husbandry in the Northern LevantPaléorient 25 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Politis, G. 2007 Nukak: Ethnoarchaeology of an Amazonian PeopleWalnut Creek, Calif.Left Coast PressGoogle Scholar
Rollefson, G. O. 2008 Charming lives: Human and animal figurines in the late Epipaleolithic and early Neolithic periods in the greater Levant and Eastern AnatoliaThe Neolithic Demographic Transition and Its ConsequencesBocquet-Appel, J.-P.Bar-Yosef, O.New YorkSpringer387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rosenberg, M. 2007 Hallan ÇemiDie ältesten Monumente der MenschheitKarlsruheBadisches LandesmuseumGoogle Scholar
Rosenberg, M.Redding, R. W. 2000 Hallan Çemi and early village organization in eastern AnatoliaLife in Neolithic Farming Communities: Social Organization, Identity, and DifferentiationKuijt, I.New YorkKluwer39Google Scholar
Rudebeck, E. 2000 Tilling Nature: Harvesting CultureStockholmAlmquist and WiksellGoogle Scholar
Russell, N.Martin, L. 2005 The Çatalhöyük mammal remainsInhabiting Çatalhöyük: Reports from the 1995–1999 SeasonsHodder, I.CambridgeMcDonald Institute for Archaeological Research33Google Scholar
Russell, N.Martin, L.Buitenhuis, H. 2005 Cattle domestication at Çatalhöyük revisitedCurrent Anthropology 46 S101Google Scholar
Russell, N.McGowan, K. J. 2003 Dance of the cranes: Crane symbolism at Catalhoyuk and beyondAntiquity 77 445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Russell, N.Meece, S. 2006 Animal representations and animal remains at ÇatalhöyükÇatalhöyük Perspectives: Reports from the 1995–1999 SeasonsHodder, I.CambridgeMcDonald Institute for Archaeological Research209Google Scholar
Schmidt, K. 2006 Sie bauten den ersten Tempel: Das rätselhafte Heiligtum der SteinzeitjägerMunichC. H. BeckGoogle Scholar
Schmidt, K. 2007 Göbekli TepeDie ältesten Monumente der MenschheitKarlsruheBadisches Landesmuseum74Google Scholar
Simmons, T.Nadel, D. 1998 The avifauna of the early Epipalaeolithic site of Ohalo II (19,400 years BP), Israel: Species diversity, habitat and seasonalityInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology 8 793.0.CO;2-I>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Solecki, R. L.McGovern, T. H. 1980 Predatory birds and prehistoric manTheory and Practice: Essays Presented to Gene WeltfishDiamond, S.The HagueMouton79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stevanovic, M.Tringham, R. 1998
Stordeur, D. 2000 New discoveries in architecture and symbolism at Jerf el Ahmar (Syria), 1997–1999Neo-Lithics 1 1Google Scholar
Stordeur, D.Benet, M.der Aprahamian, G.Roux, J.-C. 2000 Les bâtiments communautaires de Jerf el Ahmar et Mureybet PPNA (SyriePaléorient 26 29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Talalay, L. 2004 Heady business: Skulls, heads and decapitation in Neolithic Anatolia and GreeceJournal of Mediterannean Archaeology 17 139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Twiss, K. C.Bogaard, A.Bogdan, D.Carter, T.Charles, M. P.Farid, S.Russell, N.Stevanović, M.Yalman, E. N.Yeomans, L. 2008 Arson or accident? The burning of a Neolithic house at ÇatalhöyükJournal of Field Archaeology 33 41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Valla, F. R.Le Mort, F.Plisson, H. 1991 Les fouilles en cours sur la Terrasse d’HayonimThe Natufian Culture in the LevantBar-Yosef, O.Valla, F. R.Ann Arbor, Mich.International Monographs in Prehistory93Google Scholar
Verhoeven, M. 2002 Ritual and ideology in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B of the Levant and Southeast AnatoliaCambridge Archaeological Journal 12 233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Watkins, T. 2004 Building houses, framing concepts, constructing worldsPaléorient 30 5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Watkins, T. 2006 Architecture and the symbolic construction of new worldsDomesticating SpaceBanning, E. B.Chazan, M.BerlinEx Oriente15Google Scholar
Weinstein-Evron, M.Belfer-Cohen, A. 1993 Natufian figurines from the new excavations of the el-Wad Cave, Mt. Carmel, IsraelRock Art Research 10 102Google Scholar
Yartah, T. 2005 Les bâtiments communautaires de Tell ‘Abr 3 (PPNA, SyrieNeo-Lithics 1 3Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats